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too much at stake but too late to change

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They were given a lot of information about the test, about the mountain, but the only thing Izuku really remembered in the end was the little placard above the map of the hiking trails at the ranger station with the weather forecast. The little blue card had a smiling orange sun right in the center. That was good; the rainy season could make the mountainside unstable, but in the warmth of early spring, a rescue mission was meant to be entirely theoretical.

They started at the cabins beside the ranger station, shuttling in with their wilderness equipment and overnight bags in the gathering dusk.  Aizawa gave them instructions in the entryway.

“At some point tonight, you’ll be woken for your rescue mission. Part of this is about safe traversal of the mountains—do not get reckless. There are twenty flags out there. You’re working as a team, so this isn’t a contest, but I won’t hesitate to fail anyone who doesn’t contribute even if you retrieve all the flags.” His gaze flashed around, but didn’t settle on any of them for too long, at least not that Izuku could see.

“You all have an emergency satellite radio. If anyone gets hurt, you call me. If you need to come back, I’ll call you. Short of a real emergency, call each other, not me.”

Izuku remembered the ragged chorus of agreement. He remembered being woken a little before five AM, shouldering his backpack and heading out. And he remembered heading up the mountain with Bakugou, looking for a solitary ‘lost hiker’ meant to be up near the cliffs to the east.

He remembered studying the map. He remembered when he and Bakugou decided to split up to sweep the woods more efficiently.

And then he remembered his radio crackling to life. “A rainstorm moved in near the summit,” Aizawa’s voice said. “Get down the mountain, now.”

Izuku had tried. Or, he thought he’d tried. He thought he’d been on his way back. But what he really remembered, last of all, was the sound of it. He hadn’t thought at all about what it would sound like when soil gave way. When roots let go in loosened earth and a mountainside toppled.

He couldn’t have described it. It sounded like a wave and an earthquake and a crack of thunder all at once, and then it sounded like his heartbeat too loud in his ears and his own panicked shout and then it sounded like nothing at all.

Then, it sounded like Kacchan’s voice. “Deku. Deku, wake the fuck up.”

He tried to open his eyes. It worked, but everything spun around him. The world was a nauseating blur of colors he couldn’t focus on.

“Kacchan?”

“Yeah. Deku, did you hit your head?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. He tried to sit up and tipped over. It took Izuku a minute to realize he had tipped over; all his sensations were replaced by pain and confusion and as they slowly returned, he realized he was lying on the forest floor. His head throbbed.

“Okay, don’t fucking do that—your ankle’s all swollen. Don’t move, you don’t need to look—” because Izuku instantly tried to do just that. “I’ve got it. Where’s your backpack?”

Izuku had no idea and said so. Katsuki eventually produced a first aid kit and wrapped his ankle while Izuku lay on his back in the dirt, watching the grey of the sky blur in and out of focus.

“Shit,” Katsuki said, maybe ten minutes later or maybe an hour. “It’s going to rain. Where’s your jacket?”

Izuku couldn’t come up with the right words. He opened his mouth but they didn’t materialize. So he shook his head in an attempt to indicate that he didn’t know. That sent the world into another spin, and he fainted to the familiar sound of Kacchan cursing at him.

---

When Izuku opened his eyes next, he was staring out at a distant treeline. He blinked. His head still ached, but less badly, if only in the sense that he was capable of coherent thought. When he tried to look around too quickly, though, everything spun; he had to stop and close his eyes again until the nausea faded.

Izuku took inventory of his body. His ankle was throbbing, and he was generically sore, but there was a different, uncomfortable pressure at various points—rope, he realized, when he tried to move a leg and could only kick out partway. He was bound to something, backwards. It was raining, but only his face was wet; he was ensconced in a slightly oversized waterproof parka, the hood tightly cinched around his face, zipped all the way up to his chin. His face was still cold from the rain, but his fingers weren’t—he had two pairs of gloves on, he realized after a moment, one over the other.

“…what?” Izuku shifted. He couldn’t move much the way he was bound, rope looping in a complicated harness beginning around his legs, crisscrossing back and forth across his back and around his chest. His arms alone were free. He twisted his head to look down and nearly vomited—he was staring straight into an abyss. The ground below him was perhaps sixty or seventy meters down.

“Help!” he shrieked and twisted around, grabbing with both arms at nothing, at a pair of shoulders—Kacchan’s shoulders, he realized belatedly, as he flailed in the ropes. The smell of burnt caramel cut through the predominate scent of damp forest and rain.

“Fucking—Deku, stop moving!” there was an edge of panic to Kacchan’s voice that made Izuku’s panic worse.

“Kacchan we’re—“

“STOP MOVING!”

Izuku froze. “Kacchan…”

“Shut up for a sec.” Katsuki was taking careful breaths. “Fuck. That was—you’ve gotta stay still.”

“We’re so high!”

“I know! Don’t fucking—don’t activate your quirk. Fuck. The rope won’t hold.”

Izuku hadn’t even thought of it and the idea that he could have sent himself plummeting made him sick to his stomach. It was something to think about later—the fact that his quirk still wasn’t instinctive, that he didn’t reach for it automatically in panic—but just now that lack of instinct might have saved his life.

“What do you remember?” Kacchan prompted. They dropped downward slightly and Izuku gasped and grabbed hold of his shoulder again. “Don’t—ow, don’t do that!”

Izuku snatched his hand back. “Sorry! I thought we were—falling.”

“I’m climbing, dipshit.”

“Up?”

“Yeah, cause that’ll help us,” Katsuki’s voice dripped sarcasm. “Down, dumbass.”

“It’s so far!”

“I know!” Kacchan snarled. “Just. Stop moving. Don’t grab my shoulders. If you need to hold on, the ropes or my sides are okay.”

“Are you hurt?”

“I’m climbing hand over hand,” Katsuki said shortly. “No footholds.”

Izuku glanced down, focusing on what was immediately below instead of the drop. Sure enough, Katsuki’s feet mostly dangled. He occasionally scrabbled at the rock with his toes for something to brace himself, but the rock was very sheer and smooth, worn flat by years of rain.

Each movement downward, then, meant that Katsuki had to let go with one hand and bear both his weight and Izuku’s on one arm. No wonder he didn’t want extra weight on his shoulders.

More burnt caramel accompanied a small explosion as they descended a little more. Their situation clicked into place. “You’re making the handholds!”

“Yeah.”

Izuku steeled himself and took another look down, trying to judge the distance. Maybe sixty meters. It was a long way to go.

“How far have we gotten?”

“’bout halfway.”

Izuku tipped his head up to verify but could only see the black sky above, and he got water in his eyes straightaway so he looked outward again.

“Kacchan…?”

“Yeah?”

“What happened?”

“Don’t you remember shit?”

Izuku tried to sort through. “I remember the—the avalanche.”

“Landslide.”

“What?”

“Avalanche is snow.”

“Oh.”

Katsuki huffed out a breath and swung downward again. Izuku was beginning to get used to the stop and start rhythm of the climb. “Found you. Tried to get back north towards the trails but there’s no way through. And the rain was coming down the mountain towards us and I didn’t want to get caught in another one.”

Izuku took a moment to process it all. “…thanks, Kacchan.”

“Don’t thank me yet.” Izuku couldn’t see Katsuki’s face as he spoke, but pressed against his back he could feel the movement of his muscles, how tense he was and the sharp jerk of his breathing. “Could still fall and die.”

There were a few minutes of silence, only broken by Katsuki’s heavy breathing and the intermittent explosions, and of course the eternal rain. It was worsening as Izuku watched; what had been a steady shower was turning into a downpour, sheets of water dumping out of the sky. Izuku tucked his chin against his chest and closed his eyes to avoid looking down, grateful for the parka to keep him dry. Even with it he shivered a little. The light spring warmth of the previous evening had fled entirely in the face of the storm.

The rhythm of the climb slowed as Katsuki struggled against the flood of water. Izuku was jostled more as they descended; at first he thought the rock might have become more unstable, but then he realized it was violent shivering.

“Kacchan…are you okay?” He had to shout to be heard over the rain.

“Yes,” Katsuki spat.

“Okay,” Izuku said. “Thank you, Kacchan.”

“Stop fucking thanking me.”

“You saved me,” Izuku said. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“Yeah, I should have left you to fucking die on a mountain, what the hell do you think of me!” Another explosion sounded; Katsuki shuddered as he swung down forcefully.

“You came and looked for me,” Izuku said, quietly. “I didn’t mean—I know you wouldn’t have left me, or anyone. But you came and got me. I remember that.”

“Yeah, well. I knew you were nearby, dumbass.”

Izuku nodded, forgetting momentarily Kacchan couldn’t see. “I know. Still.”

“Just stay still,” Katsuki grunted.

The rain continued to pour. Izuku curled in on himself as much as he could and closed his eyes against the downpour. He wasn’t sure when he drifted off to sleep again, but he woke to a sudden jerk and Kacchan cursing. There was a moment of total confusion; then he remembered where he was.

“Kacchan?”

“Fucking shit—“ Katsuki’s voice sounded strange, strained. “Yeah, Deku?”

“What happened?”

“Slipped a little.” He could imagine Katsuki gritting his teeth. “S’fine.”

The rain had faded to a drizzle, but the sky was darker—dusk. Katsuki wasn’t shivering anymore, but his breaths were shuddery and rapid. Izuku looked down; they’d made good distance. Maybe twenty meters left to go.

Another explosion, another shaky inhale, and Izuku finally got it. “Kacchan are you—are you okay?”

Yes.”

Izuku gave it another minute, but the strained breathing didn’t stop. “Kacchan, you’re crying.”

“Shut the fuck up.”

“Are you okay?”

Katsuki sped up his climb. They made it perhaps another meter before he spoke. “We’re going to make it down.”

“I know,” Izuku said quietly. “But I wanted to know if you were okay.”

“I’m fine.”

“Then why are you crying?”

Katsuki made a frustrated noise. Izuku wasn’t sure that he’d have the courage to have this conversation face to face under normal circumstances. But back to back, partway down a cliff face, dangling between death-by-landslide and death-by-falling, everything else seemed far more frightening than pushing through Kacchan’s defenses.

The climb continued, and then Katsuki said, so quietly it was almost lost to the wind, “It hurts.”

“What?”

“You fucking heard me,” he snapped. “Okay? It’s a little pain and I’m fucking crying about it, you can give me shit about it later.”

“Are you hurt?”

“No.”

Izuku came to the obvious conclusion. “It’s hard to climb with someone strapped to your back.”

“You’re not light,” Katsuki agreed. “We’re going to make it, though.” But there was something in his voice that said he wasn’t sure.

“I know,” Izuku said confidently. He could believe enough for both of them. “You’re amazing.”

Katsuki let out another unsteady breath, but it was a laugh rather than a sob. “You’re a piece of shit.”

“A piece of shit that you carried down a mountain!” Izuku shot back, cheerfully. He took another look. Only another ten meters to go; the ground looked less threateningly distant now. And in the face of the last however-many hours, it was hard to take Katsuki’s vitriol seriously. He’d come looking for Izuku. He’d saved him. He’d carried him all the way to the cliff face and all the way down it.

“Guess I did,” he grunted. “…any idea how much further?”

“You can’t tell?”

“Nah. Thought it was about two hundred meters at the top but I can’t really look down. Figure—maybe fifty left?”

Izuku’s heart leapt. “I’d say more like ten.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck, we’ll make it.” Emboldened, Katsuki kept going. Izuku watched the ground come closer and closer until on his next handhold his foot hit the ground. He stumbled into a hunched standing position, Izuku still dangling at his back.

“Fuck,” Kacchan gasped, and collapsed shoulder-first against the cliff face. Izuku wiggled in his harness.

“How do I untie…?”

“Just fucking break them.”

“How…?”

“Your fucking strength quirk, dipshit!”

“Oh!” Izuku activated full cowl—barely three percent, but it did the trick and the ropes snapped like string. He remembered his ankle just in time to land on one foot and lean against the rock wall as Kacchan had. The waterproof parka had kept him mostly dry, but his feet were soaked, and the one shoe he had on the ground squelched.

Then, finally, he looked up. From the base, the cliff looked impossibly high. Utterly insurmountable. He couldn’t have even ventured a guess at the height.

“Kacchan,” he said. “That’s amazing. You climbed that whole way…”

He didn’t get an answer. When he turned, Katsuki had stumbled away from the cliff face and was throwing up in the dirt.

“Shit,” Izuku lurched towards him.

“Don’t,” Katsuki snapped, in between heaves. “Ankle.”

“I’ll be careful,” Izuku promised, hopping over. “Kacchan…”

Katsuki gagged again. Izuku got his first real look at Katsuki as he dropped to his good knee beside him with a thud. Kacchan was soaked to the bone; utterly drenched, because he wasn’t wearing a parka like Izuku. His long-sleeved t-shirt was drenched, stuck to his skin. So were his jeans and shoes. His hair was plastered to his face, and his skin was bone-white. He was on both knees, hunched over, hands held stiffly at his sides with his fingers splayed.

Izuku stripped off his double-layer of gloves with his teeth before he carefully took one of Kacchan’s hands. Katsuki’s skin was cold as ice, and when Izuku turned his hand over, his fingers and palms were a bloody mess.

“Kacchan…”

“Don’t,” Kacchan tried to snatch his hand away but Izuku didn’t let him.

“I won’t touch it, don’t worry,” Izuku promised. He wanted to cup Katsuki’s icy fingers in his, but he was afraid to cause more pain by putting pressure on the wounds. It was hard to tell how deep the damage went, under the blood. When he turned the hand over again, he realized two fingernails were missing and the others were worn bloody. “You’re so cold…”

“Nah,” Katsuki said. “S’not so bad anymore.”

Izuku remembered the violent shivering from earlier and his heart dropped as he realized. “Kacchan. You’re hypothermic.”

“Oh,” Katsuki said, after a moment. The panicked part of Izuku’s brain thought it took him too long to respond, but it was probably fine. His words were perfectly clear when he added, “That makes sense, actually.”

“We need to—“ he went to unzip his jacket and Katsuki stopped him.

“Don’t,” he said. “If I am—one of us needs to be thinking straight. Especially since you’re concussed.”

“It’s better,” Izuku argued. Katsuki gave him the most unimpressed look Izuku had ever seen in his life, and he amended. “Not all the way, but—I’m less dizzy.”

“Keep the jacket,” Katsuki said. “It won’t make me drier.”

That was true. Izuku’s center mass, at least, had been spared the rain by the waterproof jacket, and even though it had slowed to a drizzle in enough time he’d be soaked through without it. Carefully, he replaced his glove, stopping before he could put on the second one and instead stripping the double-layer off his other hand. “Do you want…?” He held the gloves out. Blowing handholds in the cliff face the whole way, of course Katsuki couldn’t have worn them to climb, but now giving them back might make him a little warmer.

Katsuki hesitated. “It’ll get fiber in the blisters.”

“There’s already dirt in there,” Izuku pointed out. Blisters; Izuku had pictured the skin just wearing away, the way the rain had worn away the rock surface, but blisters made more sense. Katsuki’s palms were deeply callused already; to imagine breaking through them to blister and then continuing to climb until the blisters burst into bloody wounds—

—he’d been embarrassed about it, but it was no wonder Katsuki had cried.

“Yeah,” Kacchan said, finally. “Okay.”

Izuku had to help him put them on, Katsuki’s fingers too stiff and painful to maneuver; he focused on working the cloth over the broken skin as gently as possible. It had the added bonus of letting him pretend not to see Kacchan’s tears.

“Okay,” Katsuki said. “There’s a town that way.” And in the gathering dark Izuku could indeed see the distant lights of the village. He glanced at Izuku’s ankle and then stood gingerly. “You’re gonna have to lean on me.”

Izuku hopped on his right leg to Katsuki’s right side, and after a moment of adjustment, carefully slung an arm around Kacchan’s shoulders.

Katsuki cried out; Izuku pulled back and had to hop rapidly to rebalance.

“Fuck,” he said. “No, try again.”

Izuku was remembering when he’d first awoken on their climb down the cliff side. “Your shoulders…”

“I can do it,” Katsuki said through gritted teeth.

“I can walk,” Izuku said, and started to set his wrapped ankle on the ground.

“Don’t you fucking dare!” Katsuki burst out. “Don’t you want to be a fucking hero?”

“What…?”

“Your whole goddamn “Shoot Style” is because you fucked your arms up,” Katsuki snapped. “Because you break a fucking bone and then you keep using it until it won’t heal all the way. If you have a fucking broken ankle you can’t walk on it or you’ll make it worse.”

“It’s okay,” Izuku said. “It doesn’t hurt that bad.”

“That’s not the point,” Katsuki looked infuriated. “The point is if you don’t take care of yourself you won’t be able to keep fighting! I thought you wanted to be the number one hero!”

“I do!” Izuku found himself yelling to match Katsuki in volume.

“Then fucking act like it and don’t do shit that’s going to make it so you have to retire five years out of school!”

“Okay,” Izuku said, in the ensuing silence. “Okay, Kacchan. You’re right.”

“Damn straight,” Katsuki said.

“I’m sorry I worried you,” Izuku said.

“I wasn’t fucking worried,” Kacchan lied through his teeth. “But if you don’t take care of yourself taking number one hero from you’s not going to be a challenge at all.”

“I won’t use my ankle,” he agreed. “But I don’t want to hurt you.”

“It’s just sore,” Katsuki said. “It’s not…you won’t make an injury worse or anything.”

That might have been true, but there was after-a-good-workout soreness and there was the soreness that came after being thoroughly brutalized, and Izuku was certain that the pain in Katsuki’s arms and shoulders was closer to the latter. “That’s not what I meant. I don’t want to cause you pain.”

“Just—“ Kacchan sighed. “Try putting your arm around my back. Under my arms.”

It was more awkward that way, and Izuku’s hopping was more unsteady, but there were no more pained noises from Kacchan and Izuku didn’t have to put weight on his injured ankle, so he counted it as a success. There was more forest between the mountain and the town, and it was difficult to pick their way along the root-mottled ground in the dark. Occasionally they lost sight of the town through the trees, once for just long enough for Izuku to fear they’d lost their way, but it always came back into view.

The trees shielded them from the drizzle as they went. Izuku was unsteady, both from the dizziness—which came and went periodically—and the hopping. Kacchan was more sure-footed, but he walked slower and slower until Izuku found himself nudging him along.

“Kacchan?” he prompted.

“…yeah, Deku?”

“You need to stay awake,” he said.

“I am,” Katsuki growled, but Izuku could see the force of will it took for him to keep moving.

They finally reached the edge of the treeline and Izuku could see the nearest house. The pilot light, shining on the other side of a small field, had a glow as comforting as a lighthouse on the coast of a black sea. Izuku hopped into a slightly better position, adjusting his grip around Kacchan’s chest.

“How much further?” Katsuki asked. His words slurred at the edges.

“We’re so close,” Izuku promised. “Just a little further, Kacchan.”

They somehow stumbled the last way across the field. Izuku knocked on the door with a little more force than necessary. A woman in her late sixties or early seventies cracked it open slightly, peering out through the screen.

“Please help us,” Izuku said. “We were caught in the landslide on the mountain…”

Her eyes went wide when she got a good look at them. Izuku unsteady, foot lifted like a wounded fawn, clutching at Kacchan to stay upright; Kacchan soaked and dull-eyed, blinking at her stupidly. She swung the door open. “Come in, get out of the rain.”

They staggered the last few steps of their three-legged race, peeling off drenched shoes in the entryway. Izuku just sat down right there, careful of his foot in deference to his promise; Kacchan slumped beside him, eyes slipping shut.

“Kacchan,” Izuku snapped. “Kacchan, stay awake!” The woman was coming back with towels and looked up at his alarmed tone. “I’m sorry, he’s—I think he’s hypothermic.”

“Get his clothes off,” she ordered. She disappeared into the house again.

“Kacchan,” Izuku prompted, nudging him gently into semi-wakefulness. “Just a little further, Kacchan.” But he couldn’t get the damp fabric over Katsuki’s shoulders without making him whimper.

“Your fucking strength quirk, dipshit!” Kacchan’s words echoed in his ears.

“Right.” He activated One for All and just ripped the fabric, replacing the soaked cotton with the dry towel. The pants were easier, and Katsuki responded to prompts enough to help wriggle out of them. Izuku stripped Kacchan’s soaking wet socks off himself and set them on top of the jeans. “There we go.”

“Alright,” The woman came back eventually with more towels. She was taking everything very calmly, which made Izuku like her immediately. “I ran a bath.”

She ended up guiding Katsuki into it while Izuku hopped along beside. In the bathroom, he stripped off his own socks and the parka. His shirt was dry beneath it; so were his pants down to the knee, but he stripped them off anyway because the fabric was soaked from the calf down, even though it was hard to work over his ankle with any delicacy.

“I had four sons,” the woman said dryly, when Izuku cast about for something to preserve his modesty, so he just sat on the floor of the bathroom in his boxers and shirt. He dried his legs and feet with one of the towels and then flipped the toilet lid down and sat on it instead of trying to fold his legs correctly on the ground.

The woman settled on the ground next to the tub with more grace than Izuku expected from her age. In the water, Katsuki was shivering.

“Kacchan—” Izuku’s voice rose in alarm, but she shook her head.

“That’s a good sign, dear. Is that his name, Kacchan?”

“Err. Bakugou,” Izuku said. “Is what—Bakugou Katsuki. Is his name. I’m Midoriya Izuku.”

“I’m Takagawa Sakae. What on earth were you doing out in the storm?”

“We had a wilderness rescue test,” Izuku said. “On the mountain. It wasn’t supposed to rain…”

“The wind changed,” she said wisely. “It happens, occasionally. You were caught in the storm?”

“In the landslide,” Izuku said. “The rain was above us then…it caught up when we were coming down.”

“It loosened the soil,” she explained. “I’ve lived here my whole life. We get a storm like this maybe once or twice a decade, one that comes in suddenly like this. It’s still a little above us. I’m sure it will blow through town overnight. But why did you come all the way around the mountain?”

“We didn’t,” Izuku said, confused.  “We came down and went straight for the lights.”

“The way down is on the north face,” she corrected. “It’s a sheer cliff on this side. When you came down, there must have somewhere closer. Oh, Bakugou-kun, let’s get those gloves off.” She had noticed the black cotton gloves that Izuku hadn’t even tried to remove.

“We couldn’t get to the north,” Izuku said. “Too many trees, I think, but I wasn’t really conscious—wait, be careful,” he hopped over and took Kacchan’s hands from her. To his surprise, the water was only lukewarm.

She saw his reaction. “I was a nurse,” she said. “It can’t be too hot too quickly.”

“Oh,” Izuku said. He hesitated at the edge of the gloves.

“Just get it over with,” Katsuki rasped, apparently waking up a little.

Despite Kacchan’s words, Izuku still worked the cotton off gently. It only left a little fiber in the wounds, but they looked even worse under the light of the bathroom than they had in the twilight. Takagawa-san gasped when Izuku got the first one off and she saw the bloody sores.

“It’s fine,” Kacchan said, when Izuku hesitated. “Just do the other.”

“We came down the cliff,” Izuku said quietly, as he stripped the second glove off Katsuki’s fingers one by one. He didn’t turn to look at her expression, but the silence was telling.

“Make him lie down,” Kacchan told Takagawa-san, apropos of nothing, as Izuku set the gloves aside. “He’s concussed.”

“There’s no way down the cliff,” she said to Izuku, as though Katsuki hadn’t spoken.

Izuku looked at Kacchan. Kacchan just hissed as he lowered his bloodied hands into the water, pain and exhaustion painting his pale features.

“There is now,” he said, closing his eyes.

---

Izuku borrowed Takagawa-san’s phone and dialed the number Aizawa had forced them all to memorize. The man sounded flatly exhausted when he answered, no expression at all in his tone.

“Hello.”

“Aizawa-sensei,” Izuku began.

“Midoriya.” Aizawa cut him off. “Where are you? Are you hurt?”

“Err, a house,” Izuku said. “It’s…Takagawa-san, sorry, what’s your address?” He repeated it into the phone.

“Injuries?”

“My ankle is—broken or sprained, not sure,” Izuku said. “I have a concussion.”

“On my way,” Aizawa said. “Don’t move.” The line clicked.

“He sounded tired,” Izuku reported, leaning into the bathroom.

Katsuki snorted. “Yeah, like that’s new.”

It took an hour and a half for Aizawa to arrive. Izuku ended up stripping off his clothes and showering. Takagawa-san still had clothing from her sons that mostly fit them. In borrowed sweatpants and sweatshirt, Izuku sat obediently on the sofa while she rewrapped his ankle, hands folded around a mug of hot tea. Similarly dressed, Katsuki submitted to having his hands bandaged and then fell asleep in a pile of quilts on a futon in the spare room.

Takagawa-san foisted a second mug of tea on Izuku, but luckily wasn’t inclined to prompt him into conversation beyond an impromptu inspection of his concussion symptoms. Mild to moderate, she guessed, and then warned him away from screens. He sat quietly in the sofa instead, closing his eyes against the remnants of the headache.

The landslide had struck around mid-morning. It felt like a lifetime ago. It was strange to think that the space of time that had passed was only a little longer than a typical school day.

Izuku closed his eyes for a while and was woken by a knocking on the door. Takagawa-san was already opening it by the time he was fully awake. Aizawa stood in the doorway, hair wild, dark circles under his eyes more prominent than usual.

“Midoriya,” it was the same flat tone as before. “You’re alive.”

“Yeah,” Izuku said, sheepishly. Then he realized the implication—that Aizawa had thought he wasn’t. That Aizawa had spent the day trying to track down twenty children up a mountain in the aftermath of a disaster, and had thought that Izuku hadn’t made it.

“My mom,” he gasped.

“Called her. We’ll meet her at UA. You need medical attention.”

“What about everyone else? Are they alright?”

Aizawa sighed. He somehow looked more tired than before. The scar on his face from the USJ attack stood out. “They’ll send another search team up when the rain stops.”

“Who’s missing?” Izuku’s voice rose.

“Midoriya—”

“Someone’s missing?” Kacchan stood in the doorway, rubbing sleep from his eyes. He was still half-wrapped in a quilt. “Who’s missing?”

Aizawa’s gaze swiveled from Izuku to Katsuki. He stared at him for a long minute and then buried his face in his hands.

“No one,” he said. Even though his words were muffled, the relief of his tone was evident. “No one is missing.”

“Oh,” Izuku said, panic draining out of his body. “Why did you say search teams would go out?”

“Because,” Aizawa said, “Problem child, you did not tell me you were not alone.”

“I was concussed,” Izuku said, baffled. “I mean, I’m still concussed, but I was really concussed earlier. How would I have gotten down the mountain?”

“I still don’t know how you got down the mountain,” Aizawa said flatly. “All your classmates told me you two had gone east. The rescue teams couldn’t get through to the east side because of the debris, and it was made very clear to me that there was no way down. Imagine my surprise, problem child, when you called to let me know you were at a house on the east side of the mountain.”

“We went down the cliff,” Katsuki said.

That reminded Izuku of Kacchan’s injuries, and he blurted, “Kacchan has hypothermia and his hands are hurt!”

“I don’t have hypothermia anymore,” Katsuki objected.

Aizawa headed off the argument. “Both of you, car,” he ordered. “Takagawa-san, thank you for looking after them.”

“I was a nurse and I have four sons,” she replied.  “It was no trouble.”

Katsuki tried to shrug off the quilt and hand it back, but she refused to take it, rewrapping it around his shoulders instead. “Take it. Keep warm.”

“Err,” Izuku stood, balanced on one foot. He looked at Aizawa. “Can I get a hand?”

He leaned on his teacher on the way to the car. Kacchan followed close behind. When they were both safely in the backseat, Aizawa shut the door and then just sat forward with his forehead resting on the steering wheel.

“Aizawa-sensei?” Izuku asked, after a moment.

“You two are going to be the death of me,” he said, and then turned the key to bring the car to life. “Bakugou. Call your parents.” He tossed a cell phone into Bakugou’s lap.

The motion of the car was making Izuku feel sick again, so he leaned back and closed his eyes and listened to Katsuki’s half of the conversation, a series of stops and starts.

“Hey, Dad, it’s me. Yeah. I’m fine. I’m—don’t fucking do that I’m fine. Yeah. Don’t, she’s going to flip her shit. Come on—hi mom. We’re on our way back to UA. Aizawa-sensei came and got us. Deku, mom. I’ve been with him the whole—I don’t know, because he’s a fucking idiot, I was asleep! Because I was tired. Can you…holy shit just come to UA we’ll be there in like.”

“An hour,” Aizawa supplied in the momentary silence.

“An hour. Yeah. I was up a fucking mountain I don’t know what you wanted me to do about it! Fuck. Yeah, bye.”

Izuku opened his eyes to see Bakugou hang up. “Can I call my mom?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Aizawa.

Kacchan handed over the phone. Izuku dialed and held the phone to his ear.

“Aizawa-sensei?” his mother’s voice asked, hesitant.

“Hi mom,” Izuku said. “I wanted to call you and say we’re on our way back to UA…”

He could hear her start crying and that made him tear up as well. “I promise I’m okay,” he said over the sound of her sobs.

“I’m so glad,” she sniffled. “They said you were hurt, baby.”

“Not badly,” he promised. “Or. I had a concussion that kind of knocked me out for a while but I’m okay now!”

Aizawa shot him a look in the rearview mirror but said nothing.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?” she asked. “I checked the weather when you told me you were going up there and it was supposed to be fine, and the next thing I knew they were calling us and saying there was a landslide.”

“It changed so fast,” Izuku said. “They radioed us to head back but we were too far up. But I’m okay now,” he repeated. “Kacchan came and got me.”

That got him another look in the rearview mirror. Katsuki said nothing; when Izuku glanced over, he’d slumped down into the quilt again and appeared to be on his way back to sleep.

“Katsuki?” his mother asked.

“Yeah. Kacchan knew I was nearby so he came and found me and tried to wake me up.”

Tried?

“I was a little unconscious,” Izuku admitted. “But he found me and he did first aid and he tried to get us back to the trail and when we couldn’t get through and it started raining harder he climbed down with me.”

“Climbed?”

“Down the cliff face,” Izuku said. Ordinarily he would have tried to spare his mother the details, but it didn’t seem fair to Kacchan to sugarcoat it considering he’d done all the work. “He carried me all the way down. It was amazing. Kacchan’s amazing.”

He stole another glanced at Kacchan. He was definitely asleep, or at least faking it well to spare Izuku’s dignity.

“Oh, baby,” Izuku’s mother said softly. “I’m really glad you’re okay.”

“I’ll be home soon,” Izuku promised. “I’ll see you soon.”

“I love you, Izuku,” she said.

“Love you too,” he answered. He quietly returned the phone to Aizawa after he hung up.

“You two went down the cliff face,” Aizawa said after a moment.

“Yeah,” Izuku said.

“The cliff face,” Aizawa said, “That I have been having conversations with professional climbers and mountain rescuers about all day. All of whom have assured me it’s perfectly sheer. That no one really climbs it, and certainly no one without professional climbing equipment and a full safety harness would survive.”

Izuku remembered Katsuki’s assertion that there was a way down the cliff now. “It’s not sheer anymore. We, um, or Kacchan I guess, he used his quirk…”

“He blew handholds in it.” Aizawa came to the correct conclusion. “Of course he did.”

“His hands are in bad shape,” Izuku said, quietly. “Quirk overuse and the climbing too, I think. He really did carry me all the way down.” He fell silent for a while before a thought struck him. “Did we fail the test?”

“What?”

“The rescue test,” Izuku said. “We never found the flags we were supposed to retrieve. But Kacchan did save me. So he should pass, at least.”

“Wouldn’t have made it to Takagawa-san’s place if not for you,” Katsuki cut in. His voice was rough with sleep, but Izuku couldn’t have guessed how long he’d been listening in. “If I passed, you passed.”

The car lapsed back into quiet.

“Yes,” Aizawa said, finally. “You both passed.”